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Volunteers Recover Bodies Of Friends And Neighbors In Washington Landslide

Phyllis Fletcher
Bob DeYoung has recovered bodies of his friends and neighbors in the Oso landslide. His wife has been cooking for hundreds of people a day at the Darrington community hall.

Wednesday night an emergency commander in Darrington, Wash., told a packed town meeting the number of confirmed dead in the Oso landslide is now 25.

Dozens are still missing and the numbers change as bodies are recovered.

It’s grim and exhausting work.

Bob DeYoung came to a prayer vigil in Darrington wearing thick suspenders that held up jeans covered in mud. You could see he had been working hard and he had been out all day.

“We have log shovels. We have excavators. We have many many people out there," says DeYoung. "A lot of them local guys. Local loggers that own their own companies and they’re putting in their time and that’s what I got invited out and that’s what we do.”

DeYoung is a logger. He’s also been a policeman. And this is like nothing he’s ever seen.

“It’s just 50 feet of just a mess,” he says.

That’s 50 feet deep.

“It’s churned up with timber and house parts and cars that are just -- you can’t even believe what they look like," says DeYoung. "You can tell they’re metal and that’s about it.”

On the other side of the mud and debris that has blocked highway 530 is Arlington. And there, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick expressed that same sense of shock at the slide area.

“I must tell you that in my 44 years of public service -- 31 years as a state trooper and 13 years in the United States Coast Guard -- nothing in the world could have prepared me for what I saw.”

Response commanders have seen bodies and people like Bob DeYoung have been helping to get them out. Today he said they found one victim still in their car.

"It was buried probably at least three or four feet in the mud," says DeYoung. "We didn’t get to see the entire car. We just found part of it and cut the roof off.”

DeYoung has recognized the people he has found. Three so far and one of them a child.

“You just try to get ‘em out," he says. "And then get ‘em covered up. We’re surrounded by family a lot of times. So you try to be as respectful as you can … until the helicopter flies ‘em out.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee made another trip to Darrington yesterday. He attended the prayer vigil and the community meeting. Afterwards he spoke to reporters and expressed his shock at the scene.

“There is not a stick. There’s not a brick. There’s not a chimney. There is nothing in this slide area," said Inslee. "And the power of this thing was beyond imagination. But, you know, there are powerful forces in nature of compassion and sticking together, and that’s what this town of Darrington’s doing.”

Sticking together -- and insisting on helping out.

Bob DeYoung will not directly admit he was out there before it was officially sanctioned, but he says he had to go because he had the equipment and the know-how.

And he couldn’t just sit there and watch TV.

The fatal slide has isolated Darrington from nearby Arlington. People there are just as desperate for news.

Brent Collins rode his bike to the park that town and county officials have designated as the spot for updates to the media.

He says he hasn’t heard from his friend who lives in the slide area.

“What I can put together is he was on his way to work and he was on 530 at the time of the slide," says Collins. "I’m very hopeful that he’s still out there. But with the looks of it I honestly don’t know.”

Bob DeYoung says it’s very frustrating. Everything -- and everyone -- under the mud is buried very deeply, he says. He doesn’t know how everything is going to get out.

But he’s going back today. And tomorrow.